Vladimir Putin
Vladimir PutinReuters

The Russian helicopter pilot who made international headlines when he defected to Ukraine in 2023 has been found murdered in Spain, days before Russia's main opposition figure died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison.

Maksim Kuzminov's body was discovered in an underground parking garage in the town of Villajoyosa on February 13.

The 33-year-old had been shot at least six times and run over with a vehicle. The vehicle was found burned in a nearby village. Spanish authorities are hunting for two suspects in the assassination.

Kuzminov was living in Spain under an assumed name following his defection.

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Alexei Danilov told reporters that Ukrainian officials had advised Kuzminov to remain in Ukraine where he could be better protected.

Russian news agency TASS reported that the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, reacted to the reports of the assassination of the former pilot by calling Kuzminov a “traitor and criminal” as well as a "moral corpse."

Three days after Kuzminov's body was discovered, on February 16, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle where he was serving a long jail term.

Navalny, 47, has gained significant notoriety for his accusations of widespread corruption and critiques of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his close associates.

According to the east statement by the administration of the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, Navalny "felt unwell" after a walk at the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow. Shortly thereafter, he abruptly lost consciousness. The prison service claims that medical staff and an ambulance team were alerted immediately, and attempted resuscitation before declaring him dead at the scene.

Navalny had previously survived an assassination attempt against him using a nerve agent.